Saturday, March 27, 2010

Edgeworthia papyrifera and other surprises

Thanks to a gimlet-eyed Anonymous commenter on my blog, who had read my confident post at Shelterpop about Winter Flowers, I made a call to the clients for whom I designed this terrace garden in Tribeca last year. The purpose: may I please come and see what has survived on your terrace; in particular, the Edgeworthia papyrifera?

The answer, By all means.

Hm, what did that mean, I wondered. Was it a trap? Was my whole planting scheme a flop, all the hours of planning and research and plant-fantasy a waste? Would a tundra-like desert greet me?

So I went.

We three stepped onto the terrace and there it was. In full bloom, scent flung all about it like sunshine in the cold wind.

It was the one shrub I chose about which I was concerned. It ought not be hardy here, but Atlantic, a reliable nursery, was selling it, and I had fallen in love on the spot. As one does. And my reading suggested that that it might be marginally hardy here. 'Here' we are in USDA hardiness zone 6b, but near the Hudson's whipping winds (which really come from the frigid west), I was worried. And yet...

How happy I was.

I had last left it looking like this, in November:

And when I bought it in September, it was a lushly-rounded shrub with elongated leaves, below. Will it bloom again, asked Stephen and Ilse. No, I said, apologetically, this is it, meaning, Just in spring.

NO??? They chorused: Never again???

Well, next spring, I smiled.

They subsided...

So, to sum up: Edgeworthia doing well in Zone 6a, I'd say, at least (unscientific as my opinion is); no more than about 4 hours of sun total, and rather exposed. Neutral soil, well drained.

Lest you think it was all perfect and happy, regard the collection of sticks planted nearby (the middle sticks with dead leaves, the sticks on the left are alive - Hydrangea 'Tardiva', and the dry grassy things are alive: Japanese ribbon grass):

Not quite the same as it looked in late November...Camellia 'Winter's Snowman'. Ironically, on paper, hardier. "Cold hardy to -23'C". But this specimen succumbed to the wind, while another was more protected against a western wall , beside some Fargesia rufa, a small clumping bamboo (still green and lush). That one lost one branch where snow had lain around it in a drift for weeks. I should never have planted this camellia in the teeth of the wind.

More good news, but not unexpected: this hardy Corylopsis spicata, a winter hazel, in full bloom. This part of the terrace receives just a couple of hours of sun near midday.

Below, here it is last November:


And the other winter hazel, Corylopsis pauciflora.

Viburnum tomentosum "Mohawk" had just opened - a little earlier than I had anticipated, but there are hundreds of tightly closed green buds on the branches - and was spicily fragrant. I wonder how they fared in last night's zub-freezing temperatures...

And at the shadier end, the Magnolia stellata was in bud.

Lest you think it will all be over in a rush, there are two other viburnums to stagger the season of bloom, hopefully lasting through May, then comes the fringe tree (Chionanthis virginicus), three species of hydrangeas, the Franklinia alatamaha (September flowers - 'discovered' on the Alatamaha River) and then hopefully the surviving camellia.

So a visit filled with relief, some lessons, and a reminder that this is the best part of making gardens - as I was in danger of forgetting: seeing the pictures in one's head, then on paper, come to life, and stay alive.



  1. It all looks gorgeous. Of course, that's probably why the clients wouldn't be all that interested in a wind screen for those life sucking winter winds?

  2. Looking pretty good, I'd say, after the horrors of your winter.
    I want to stroke that silky edgworthia!

  3. You've knocked the wind out of me a bit. Let me explain.

    I noticed very unusual and mysterious flowering bush in the Moongate Garden of the Sackler Museum yesterday and was wondering how I would ever figure out its proper name (very unusual and mysterious flowering bush sounds great but not that informative).

    Edgeworthia papyrifera.

    As pictured in one of your work gardens!

    My goodness. Thank you!

  4. Everything's looking great! i think your roof top microclimate has bought you at least half a hardiness zone...the buds on my viburnum "Mohawk" aren't even showing color yet!


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